WASHINGTON (Jan. 4, 2012)—New federal air pollution rules that would have lowered the level of allowable emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen emissions from power plants in 27 states have been put on hold by a federal appellate court.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has granted a temporary injunction halting the rules from going into effect as scheduled Jan. 1 after 15 states, at least a dozen power-generating companies, several unions and a coalition of industry groups filed more than three dozen lawsuits to halt their implementation.
The groups argued that the new cross-state air pollution rules—announced in July by the Environmental Protection Agency—would harm the economy and threaten the reliability of the nation's power grid.
The Dec. 30 court ruling stays implementation of the EPA rules pending a full review of those rules by the court. The ruling also ordered the parties to submit proposed briefing schedules by Jan. 17 so that the case may be heard by April.
EPA has said that the new lower emission levels are needed to prevent an additional 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks and 400,000 cases of asthma starting in 2014. Sulfur dioxide emissions can lead to acid rain and soot. Nitrogen oxide is a component of ground-level ozone, which is a contributor of smog, according to the agency.
The new rule was developed after a 2005 Bush administration proposal was rejected by a federal court. It is estimated that rule developed by the Obama administration would cost industry $2.4 billion a year to comply compared with the $1.6 billion estimated annual cost of the Bush rule.
“Today's judicial decision temporarily halts implementation of life-saving clean air protections for 240 million Americans pending full review of the facts and the law,” said Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, in a statement. “The pollution reductions at stake are some of the single most important clean air protections for children, families and communities across the Eastern half of the United States.”